Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honour to join so many friends this evening in a tribute to freedom and a tribute to the President whose name is synonymous with it – Ronald Reagan.
Ronald Reagan – Conservative
Ronnie and I got to know each other at a time when we were both in Opposition, and when a good many people intended to keep us there. They failed, and the conservative 1980s were the result.
But in a certain sense, we remained an opposition, we were never the establishment. We were opposed to big government, to fashionable opinion within the belt-way, and to the endless round of so-called liberal solutions to problems the liberals themselves had created. As Ron once put it: the nine most dangerous words in the English language are “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”. As usual, he was right.
Ronald Reagan helped America – and so America could help the world - because he rejected that approach. He believed, and he never stopped proclaiming, that the talents of a nation, not the wisdom of bureaucracy, forge a country’s greatness. Let our children grow tall – he urged - then they can reach out to raise others higher too.
For our opponents, there are always a hundred reasons why the government must intervene to plan its children’s lives. For us, there’s one overwhelming reason why it shouldn’t – because men and women are born to be free.
The world isn’t much used to hearing that kind of message now. We live in an era of sound bites and spin doctors, of false sentiment and real cynicism. That’s why just reading – or hearing as we shall - the words of Ronald Reagan is so refreshing. They remind us that men and women were born for high ideals and noble purposes.
They remind us, too, that the world which so many now take for granted was won by struggle. And Ron had to struggle. The fact that he kept his composure and lifted us all with his humour testified to his inner strength, not to a life without hardship. And it also testified, as he never failed to add, to the boundless, enfolding love of Nancy.
Ronald Reagan’s achievements can be summed up like this: he made America great again, and he used that greatness to set the nations free. Either of these achievements would qualify a President for the political pantheon: but to have succeeded in both marks out President Reagan as one of America’s very greatest leaders.
All his policies were of a piece, and all reflected his own distinctive philosophy. He believed in America, and he believed in people.
When the academics foretold American decline, he replied that there was nothing this nation couldn’t do, once given the chance.
When the economists denounced his policies of tax cuts as simplistic, he didn’t mind if his answers were simple because they were true.
When liberals doubted if Americans were willing to master events and make sacrifices, he replied (and I quote):
“No weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women”.
But nor did Ron ignore those arsenals of weapons. His build-up of American military might, sustained by a revived economy, was the decisive factor in winning the Cold War for the West and Liberty.
But how they mocked him!
Do you remember how he was told that the only way to deal with Soviet advances was to negotiate arms control?
Do you remember how they said that toughness in dealing with the Soviets would only help the hard-liners in the Kremlin? And then came Gorbachev, and then an end to the Evil Empire itself!
And do you remember how much they mocked an old man’s obsession with Star Wars? Well now we know, from the mouths of ex-Soviet officials no less, that SDI was crucial in forcing them to renounce military competition and to end the Cold War. And now President Reagan’s vision is the starting point for the world’s most necessary military programme – I mean, of course, Ballistic Missile Defence.
Reagan’s Legacy and the World Today
Missile Defence is just one example of the continuity between the world which Ronald Reagan and I faced in the 1980s and the world we know today. Now, as then, it is crucial to keep our defences strong and up-to-date. It’s particularly vital to ensure that America maintains its lead in military technology, which gives us mastery of the battlefield.
But Missile Defence also illustrates how the world has changed since those Cold War years. No longer do two nuclear superpowers confront each other around the globe. Rather, we face threats from numerous different quarters – threats less potentially catastrophic it’s true, but grave… and graver still because all but impossible to predict and deter.
Ronald Reagan’s political legacy is one where the captive nations have been freed, where democracy is dominant, where the march of capitalism is unchecked. The world is freer, fairer and richer.
But yesterday’s conservatives never imagined that the end of the Soviet Union would usher in an end to danger – only the liberals, wrong now as in the past, thought that. Those liberals were all too influential. The West cut back its defences too far. It weakened its intelligence effort. It succumbed to the fatal illusion that government’s role is to make us comfortable, rather than to keep us safe. And so it was that those who hate America, fear liberty and attack progress, were able to prepare their wicked assault on this nation that fateful Tuesday last September.
Since then the world has watched, with growing admiration and a rebirth of hope, how America has taken swift and devastating action against the West’s sworn enemies. This was an extraordinary feat of arms. It was also an inspiring example of leadership. What we have seen proves beyond doubt that America is in truth, not just name, the unrivalled global superpower. And it proves too that another great American President sits in the White House.
I am pleased and proud that Britain, once again, has made an important contribution to this struggle against evil. Echoing both Bismarck and Churchill, President Reagan once remarked: “future historians will note that a supreme fact of this [twentieth] century was that Great Britain and the United States shared the same cause: the cause of human freedom”. My friends: in the continuation of the War Against Terror our countries must again stand firm.
For as President Bush has reminded us, though a great battle is over, the war itself is not. Our purpose must be to strike the other centres of Islamic terrorism wherever they are. And we must act equally strongly against those states which harbour terrorists and develop weapons of mass destruction that might be used against us or our allies.
The recent shameful European reaction to President Bush’s State of the Union Speech reminds me of nothing so much as that which greeted President Reagan’s words two decades ago. Americans shouldn’t take too much notice. Fear masquerading as caution, pique posing as dignity, words substituting for thought – we have been there many times before. Whatever the protests of the faint-hearts, it is high time to take action against the Rogue States which are arming against us.
In particular, Saddam Hussein constitutes unfinished business. And he now needs to be finished – for good. First rate intelligence, the support of opposition elements within Iraq, and overwhelming force will probably all be required. But the risks of not acting far outweigh those of allowing Saddam to continue developing his weapons of war. I hope and trust that Britain will support to the hilt the action your President decides to take.
America today is not just the only global superpower. She enjoys a superiority over any other power or combination of powers greater than any nation in modern times. This also places on her shoulders an awesome responsibility. For the United States, as for any country, national interest must come first – and without apology. But America’s interests are so vast that no region lies beyond them. This, my friends, has three implications – each full of significance for the future.
On the first I have touched already. America must remain strong. She must again, as under Ronald Reagan, rebuild, reshape and modernise her defences. President Bush’s military budget and Secretary Rumsfeld’s visionary plans demonstrate that this lesson has already been heeded.
The second implication is that America needs trustworthy allies in every region. America is mighty, but no democracy will tolerate becoming the whole world’s policeman. My advice is: pick your allies wisely, support and reassure them – and then insist that they fulfil their promises and commit their resources.
Third – and here may I step just over the line of political even-handedness – America will know that particularly in times like these the Leader of the Free World must be seen by your friends and foes alike to speak with unqualified authority. The world does not much understand the doctrine of the Separation of Powers. But it respects America more when it knows that the promises and warnings of the US Commander-in-Chief are endorsed by the other main organs of elected government. That message is powerful politics – and it has the still greater merit of being true.
My friends, one further golden thread connects Ronald Reagan with the Republican Party today – the love of liberty. So it is doubly fitting that this should be your theme tonight.
President Reagan didn’t just abhor communism, mistrust socialism and dislike bureaucracy, he truly loved liberty – he loved it with a passion which went far beyond anything else in his political life. It was what brought moral grandeur to his vision of America and to his dreams for a better world. It was directed not mainly at earthly powers and principalities but rather at the infinitely precious, utterly unique human being, wherever he or she was yearning to breathe free. The thought is memorably expressed by the poet Byron :
‘Eternal spirit of the chainless mind! Brightest in Dungeons, Liberty! Thou art, For there thy habitation is the heart – The heart which love of thee alone can bind; And when thy sons to fetters are consigned – To fetters, and the damp vault’s dayless gloom, Their country conquers with their martyrdom, And Freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind’
My friends, God Bless Ronnie - and God Bless America!